Emotional reunions as B.C.’s relaxed care home restrictions take effect

Click to play video: 'Rules relaxed for B.C. long-term care home visits'
Rules relaxed for B.C. long-term care home visits
Families are welcoming new rules covering B.C.'s long-term care homes. They allow two adults and one child to visit a resident in their room, and most importantly hugging is allowed. John Hua reports – Apr 1, 2021

It was an emotional day at long-term care homes around British Columbia, as families took advantage of relaxed COVID-19 safety protocols.

Under the new rules, residents can see two visitors plus a child at a time in their rooms, without staff supervision.

They’re also allowed to hug and hold hands.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government eases visitation restrictions in long-term care homes'
B.C. government eases visitation restrictions in long-term care homes
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“It’s going to be awesome,” Brenda Killick, whose 93-year-old father lives at Abbotsford’s Tabor Village — the site of one of the pandemic’s deadly long-term care outbreaks.

Killick’s father had been in the home just three months when restrictions were implemented, essentially cutting him off from most of his family.

“My dad is not doing very well right now. So the (family) members are coming in, and we’re just so pleased that not only us essential visitors are allowed in but now grand children are allowed to come in,” she said.

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Cherylene Voth’s 93-year-old grandfather lives at the facility and is approaching his end of life, she said.

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She said concern her entire family is relieved they won’t be separated from him at such a crucial time.

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“It has been extremely important that instead of just a window visit … we can actually be at his bedside while he’s in his last days,” she said.

“He doesn’t have to be so distanced … for family to be there, especially in the last hours, is so important.”

READ MORE: B.C. Ombudsperson supports updating long-term care visit policy

The relaxed rules come following the vaccination of more than 90 per cent of residents in the province’s long-term care facilities.

They also mean residents can resume communal dining and small group recreational activities.

Visitors can be booked in for a minimum of 60 minutes, and must still wear masks and follow proper hand hygiene.

Tabor Village executive director Dan Levitt described Thursday as a “day of celebration.”

“Many people were spending most of their time in their room, confined to that space, so it makes a huge difference now that they'[re welcoming back family members into that environment,” he said.

“It’s incredible to witness that, to see that moment where they’re embracing for the first time, it’s like a family reunion.”

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While Levitt said the mood is jubilant at the facility, he said staff remained concerned about the possibility of another outbreak, and continued to take precautions — including health screenings of anyone coming on site.

It was a concern provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry hammered home in her Thursday briefing, warning that even with the vaccine the virus can still get into car homes.

READ MORE: Report finds communication, coordination issues in B.C.’s long-term care COVID-19 response

“We know families have been waiting for this for a long time and it’s going to be an emotional and a welcome homecoming,” she said. “But we need to be cautious and be careful.”

Anyone who is feeling the slightest bit ill should not visit a long-term care facility, she added.

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For Killick, any extra precautions is worth the chance to have her family get close to her father.

Moreover, she said the improved visiting conditions have been a shot of positive energy for everyone in the facility.

“It’s busy in here. I just heard them in the lounge area playing bingo, I haven’t heard that for months,” she said.

“Even the residents are all in the hall in their wheelchairs, and they can sense that something is on the go.”

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